Councillor defends her low attendance

FAMILY life and work often get in the way of attending meetings for younger councillors, the town’s joint-lowest attender of meetings believes.

Liberal Democrat and Northbrook ward councillor Diane Jones managed just 40 per cent turnout to full council meetings between April 2012 and January.

She is joined at the bottom of the pile of Worthing Borough councillors by Offington’s Elizabeth Sparkes, who also polled 40 per cent.

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But with young children and full time work commitments, Cllr Jones said it was not always possible to get to every meeting.

She said: “If Worthing wants older councillors that are retired that is fine but if they want younger people then obviously the younger people need to be in employment and many have children, which will get in the way to some extent.

“It is not just me, there are others on both sides.”

Overall figures provided by Worthing Borough Council show Cllr Jones attended just 45 per cent of overall meetings in the same period.

But the actual figure could be slightly higher as she sits on the licensing committee, in which members are not listed to attend every meeting.

Cllr Sparkes’ overall attendance, meanwhile, was 62 per cent.

Cllr Jones pointed out that she tried to play an ‘active’ role in her ward and spent many hours a-week dealing with a range of issues.

She said: “I try to be active in my ward and I really enjoy it.

“There are lots of different problems which come up, with housing a big one in my ward.

“I wanted to help people and have the chance to make a difference.”

Cllr Sparkes disputed the figures, believing she had missed fewer meetings and that any absences would have been in school holidays or when she had been unable to reorganise professional engagements.

Under current guidelines, councillors across the country are only obliged to attend one meeting every six months.

If they fail to do so, they can be suspended from the role.

Council leader Paul Yallop said he was always keen to ensure councillors attended regularly, although he had no powers to ensure regular attendance.

He said: “I like to see as many people turn up as possible as members of the public elected us and expect us to be at the meetings.”

But Mr Yallop said a realistic expectation would be 85 per cent total attendance.

He said: “I suggest to people they should aim for 85 per cent and I think most should be able to achieve that.

“Some councillors have had health issues in the past and we make exceptions to that.”

Mr Yallop also highlighted the availability of a carers’ allowance which was there to assist with issues younger councillors in particular may face.

Mr Yallop joined Liberal Democrat leader Alan Rice in an exclusive club of those who managed 100 per cent turnout in the same time period.

Mr Rice said: “I am in a fortunate position because I am almost retired.”

He added: “Diane is an extremely good councillor who does excellent ward work.”